- on The Artist Placement Group 1966-1989

It was really only in spelling out the decrees of the high command that we came to understand ourselves (Franz Kafka)

1. (Introduction) With the popularisation, in the late 60s, of conceptual art and its correlate the 'dematerialization of the art object' we are faced not only with terms interminably in dispute but also with the grouping together of practices under a single heading that serves to homogenise the always already heterogeneous. The recent upsurge in interest around this area, demonstrated by large attendances at the 'Live In Your Head' show held at the Whitechapel Art Gallery earlier this year, is also the offer of a chance to make potentially radical conjunctions, to come to see in the layers of history that which has not been fully played-out or which remains inchoate. Such a history, when viewed in terms of 'winners' or 'losers', is, at best, a rejection of nostalgia and a call for a practice consummate with the demands of the present, but, at worst, it undermines the socio-historical continuum that we find ourselves in and begins to play those hierarchical games, themselves heavily linked into an ideology of artistic individualism, that seek to make league tables out of radical gestures. When viewed from a position of ignorance, or the position of a novice researcher, this renewed interest in the history of conceptualism seems demonstrative of an attempt to re-inject some social combativeness into an art world seemingly full to surfeit of people willing to act as the "high priests of show business" (1). That this layer of engagement has been continuous for some may come as a surprise to those who have given up on the radical potential of the imagination to become conscious of its effect upon the social field and who have plumped instead for cod-surrealist juxtaposition and open-ended ambiguity. What is revealed by only a cursory glance at such a history is that beyond homogenised categories and stylish mimicry there are practices that are always already heterogenous. Thus we discover that the 'dematerialization' of the art object was variously concerned with a rejection of morphology and aesthetic scopism, with the rise of a text-based practice and an accent on process rather than product. In short the submerged legacy of conceptualism is one which encourages a rejection of art's ideological role in society. Through an examination of language, perception and the entrapment of desire in readymade representations the more radical proponents of conceptualism were part of an avant-grade trajectory that submitted the insitutions of art to a critique. As with their precursors they were led towards pursuing their practice amidst the dynamics of the social field. That such a 'dematerialisation' of the artist is now only a submerged legacy is, in part, a measure of how far the art institution has been engaged in a retroprojection that only benefits the econometrics of the 'yba'. With the accent upon the artist as 'knowing' faux naif, conceptualism is practiced as a style and as a mimicry that often comes across as apolitical plagiarism (i.e. a plagiarism not propelled by notions of the reappropriation of the means of expression nor concerned with the politics of representation and canonical critique). Thus, then, the findings of conceptualism are seen, by this researcher, to have remained submerged beneath a recentring of the spectator upon the art object which has acted to restrengthen the divide between artists and spectators, have been obscured by the activity of 'nomination' wherein the artist's agency is only minimally drawn towards the de-specialisation of his/her own role, and have been constantly seduced by plumping for one or other of the terms 'time-based' or 'space-based': history is disassociatedly ransacked and the environment aestheticised. Moreover, if one of conceptualism's areas of activity was the relation of 'art' to 'pop' then its legacy today is one where either term has become so reified that being 'popular' becomes a need that, who knows, unconsciously shapes a work to the degree that its artist actually submits to a preestablished definition of 'popular' rather than extending and testing the possibilities of what can be acceptable as 'popular'. And so, those artists who have unquestioningly acceded to their delegated role as the vanguard of an hyper-real image culture - and as such always eminently exchangeable - have not only been talked-up as the inheritors of the cowl of conceptualism but have bemusedly become as popular as advertisements. What follows is a critical tracking of just one of the vectors that could be said to have emerged from the conceptual practice that was re-represented by the 'Live In Your Head' show.

2. (Dematerialisation) Dematerialization of the art object can only presage a 'void' if the passing of the art object is mourned. The mourning itself, in substituting a mimetic trace for the lost object, is, in the case of conceptualism's adherents, refashioned many times over from this mimetic trace to become fixated on, for instance, the 'pictorialism of a text based practice'or in the populist adventurism of indexing creative activity that has escaped the art institution. For John Latham and Barbara Steveni of the Artist Placement Group (APG - renamed in 1989 as O+I), the potential disappearance of the art object was not an occasion for mourning but an ongoing continuation of attempts to give art a purpose 'outside' its immediate and overly obvious remit in the art institutions of gallery and museum. As a spur to the formation, in 1966, of the Artist Placement Group, Latham's own practice as an artist and theorist can be seen as part of a wider context of engaged activity that, in examining the boundaries of what constitutes visual art or language and in becoming conscious of the social-role allotted to creative workers as 'exports' for national cultures, came to view the creation of art objects (be they novels or paintings) as not at all dissimilar to the creation of manufactured commodities. Taking a cue from Rauschenberg's blank canvas of 1950, Latham, trained as a painter, became concerned with adding an extra dimensionality to the surface of the canvas (protruding books), developed upon Pollock and action painting through a durational marking of the canvas in micro moments (spray paint) and, in the mid 60s, as the APG was coming to be formed, he gained notoriety through his creation of Skoob Towers (sculptural constructs made from books and burnt in public places). For Latham, then, this formative activity led to explorations in jettisoning an object-base for art and, as an outgrowth of his association with Project Sigma and The Destruction In Art Symposium, led to a desire to work directly with a "total context of people" via the APG (2), and to developing the 'time-based' conceptual means of resisting the mono-dimensionality of art as a commodity: aligning himself with developments in physics Latham came to view 'events' rather than the 'particles' as a more apt basis for a socially engaged artistic endeavour, events spanning micro-moments and cosmological durations that, it was hoped, could be communicable as spurs to action and participation rather than as objects of self-referential contemplation. So, if the art object was coming to be dematerialized then, also, the concept of 'artist' was to be similarly overturned and redefined and Latham eventually worked-up the term 'incidental person' as a more fitting description of the intended activities of artists engaging in the social field and working to effect a change even in the smallest 'minits' of duration. This can be seen as relating to one of conceptualism's 'advances' in terms of the artist's own 'individuality' becoming the subject of art. But rather than produce a static subjectivity where the artist's person, commodified, becomes an institutional currency, the hope for the incidental person, it seems, was that the performative aspect of work within industry and government departments would not be seen through the prism of the art institution. The conceptual activity of the incidental person, in becoming immersed in the unfurling dynamics of the workplace, in maintaining a fluid position of independence and 'affectivity', would come to "generate maximum public involvement and maximum enthusiasm" so as to "release the impulse to act" (3). This impulse to act, which raises desire but leaves it unexpressed, could have become an area of concern and dissension within the APG, in that, not foisting a 'brief' upon the potential placements, but nonetheless holding them to 'feasibility studies', leads to questions around the desires of the incidental persons themselves and furthermore to questions of what it was the APG as an organisation wanted to act upon and in order to change what. That the incidental persons, free from the encumbrance of having to make an objectal art-work, could have been in a position to examine the flows of desire within the social relations of workplace and government departments is, in terms of the dematerialization of the art object, one of the most efficacious 'materials' there could be, but any 'success' in such a direction is not the nomination of desire in such an environment as a surrogate 'art piece', but what that desire, as a material force "releasing the impulse to act", brings into being once it is conscious of itself as an active force in conjunctions with the desires of others. What it was that the APG, as facilitating administrators or as incidental persons, intended to change becomes crucial. Did they want to change society or did they want to change societies attitude to art?

3. ('Going Public') In constituting a move away from the art institution and in encouraging artists to "take determined control of their social function"(4) the APG seemed to offer a radical direction. That their placements in industry (1968-1975) were only minimally negotiated through means of a funding body and, in eschewing expectations about a resultant art work, could be consequently autonomous enough to develop lines of enquiry about social dynamics, an enquiry that, in using the very 'aimlessness' of the APG's brief could swing a focus onto the aims of commodity producing industries, meant, furthermore that the incidental persons could also bypass that layer of administration and curatorial mediation that still censors social art today. If Art & Language were, at this time, continuing the work of collapsing the division of labour between artist and critic in the writing of textual art, then the APG could be seen to be working around areas of dissolving the 'divide' between the artist and the public and moving further towards 'dematerialization' by avoiding the sometimes self-referential focus of Art & Language that maintained the latter in a 'civil war' relationship with art institutions. The problems, much vaunted at the time, as to who or what constitutes the 'spectator' of conceptual art, could, with an APG practice that involved itself with submerged social dynamics, come to materialise desire and work-relations as the conceptual objects of group participation and personal responsibility that unfurls over time rather than as the contemplative still-lifes of an institutionally directed spectatorship that undifferentiatedly repeats the limits of its own confines. A release of the "impulse to act", the materialisation of desire in the social field as a rhythm between restraint and possibility, is, so the APG thesis implies, no longer a matter of spectators being grouped by an institution, but more a matter of bringing into rhythm the differential speeds of spectatorship, contemplation, self-expression and production, and pursuing the resultant activities without seeking their artistic legitimation. Whether or not this is an idealistic projection onto the APG's industrial placements of the early 70s is maybe besides the point. If we take into account the strike wave creativity of the working class of this period or the potentiality of an 'imagined' APG then the actual outcomes of an APG placement will always pale. However, as a concerted response to a still activated neurosis of artists to feel 'alienated' or 'outside' the wider society, the APG was one endeavour that sought to take conceptualism into a more engaged, inter-disciplinary, direction rather than take it towards its ever-impending 'individualised' canonisation. The resultant 'work' of an APG industrial placement could have been labour itself or, exoticization of the working classes, or desire and social relations, or a union meeting, but it was also a practice that insisted upon de-specialisation of the artists role and the transformation of the exhibition into a zone for social research. This latter point seems to be the case with the 1971 show Art & Economics which the APG staged as a 'going public' with its activities to that date: a melange of displays, time-based documentation, the sound of steel manufacture and discussions with "artists, industrialists, trade union representatives, MPs and others" (5). Bringing such people into the public sphere could have made-for an injection of accountability and democracy by means of extending the placement by utilising the art space of the Hayward Gallery as a forum. However, perhaps in the manner of an Athenian democratic model based upon slave labour, the previous quote unfortunately attends to a case of the workers themselves becoming subject once more to dematerialization and as such is a factor through which the compromised nature of the APG endeavour can come to light; an endeavour which takes on a radical semblance when it is contrasted to the object-based aestheticism of the art institution, but which, comes across as increasingly naive when it is a matter of articulating what it is that the APG sought to change. Such utterances, made after the fact in an attempt to communicate the history of the APG, are perhaps conditioned by the fact that much of what occurred in the placements was activity that had no prescription. In providing a space in which the 'incidental persons' could operate independently of government directives (which ultimately is not the case today for artists and writers in residency) the APG was actively encouraging "context related concepts"(6) which would in many circumstances be the temporary autonomous province of the 'incidental persons' themselves. In this way much of APG's activity would rest with the personal testimony of the various 'incidental persons' and the people with whom they worked. In the absence of such information, where it seems that the 'micro-event', as a means of registering desire, can come into fruition as the apt subject of discussion as to APG's efficacy on a smaller, intimate scale, we are left, in this piece, with the retrospective views of Latham and Steveni and with the visibility of APG's move towards Governmental Department Placements after 1975. This demarcation point, coming roughly at a time of growing working class militancy and when taken together with Steveni's retrospective subsumption of worker-participants by their trade union representatives is, perhaps, illustrative of the pre-materialization of the artist as professional and perhaps hints that, underlying the open-ended application of an incidental person's transversal and intuitive knowledge, there is, in the organisational 'unconscious' of the APG, a mindset that seeks legitimation for an art practice not from the art institutions themselves but from industrial and government professionals (7).

4. (The Time-Based Theories Of John Latham) John Latham's keenness to reference Rauschenberg's blank canvas as a 'turning point' in the shift from an object-based art brings forth two other works of the 50s that were similarly intended to make art reflect upon its social purpose: John Cage's 4'33" and Guy Debord's Howlings in favour of Sade. These two precursors of 'dematerialization' highlight potential areas of radical conjunction for conceptual art: music as eminently 'dematerialized', communicating in a "counter-literal" way, and after Debord's filmic experiments, revolutionary politics as the very process of combined work in the social field to effect wide reaching change. Both these pieces raise the notion of duration. Cage's 'silence' dematerializes music even further to confront its audience with their own sounds and the blank screen of Debord, albeit punctuated with process-marks and fragmented dialogue, confronts its audience not simply with the 'end of cinema' but with a reminder of the existence of a social reality as a produced reality, and the semblance of a dialogue to be begun again. Though both mark similar nodes on different journeys they both manage to raise the question not only of what we expect from 'art' but what we expect from time itself, our time, our lives. That the 'wasted' moments of 'silence' or 'imagelessness' are there to emphasise our being conditioned to expect time to be filled for us is, as with John Latham's event-based works with their in-built address to a 'reflective intuitive observer', an incentive to our making time for ourselves through access to the differential speeds of perception and desire. To make such time leads Cage into the nirvana zone of zen whilst it leads Debord towards 'situations' and the history of the working class movement. The former,after promulgating the 'open work' and a process-accent involving chance operations, perhaps transcends time in a trance, whilst the latter attempts to show how the continuum of time, a time of socially creative process, is hived-off into quantifiable durations to be measured out as money: waged-durations which, as a facet of capitalist social relations, can even buy the silence of the past. In contradistinction to Cage and Debord, John Latham's 'time-based' theories, whilst functioning to illustrate the dematerialization of the art object and leading to the micro-event of desire and the "impulse to act", come, perhaps, to be satisfied with finding a new status for art as that which, when the theories are extended to a cosmological level, forms the basis of a Grand Universal Theory or a 'meaning of the world'. The time-based theories of John Latham, being content with the fixity of a specific turning point, a conjunction between art and physics through the Einsteinian auspices of 'all matter being at a dimensionless point', falter quite considerably when we sense that what is being removed from the 'time-based' approach is the notion of history as the social continuum we are actually living in. Whilst such an approach may allow for the effects of an APG placement to be seen over a longer duration of time than is normally allotted an artist-in-residence, whilst it admits of process and reflexive reassessment, it does not appear to take account of what occurs prior to the placement, the very history that the incidental person would bring into a situation and the very history of that situation itself. If Debord and Cage looked elsewhere for their legitimation, if they raised the concept of duration and, in leaving it empty, gave it political overtones by inferring into the silence and blankness that it was necessary for its recipients to take action to define time in a space-time continuum (autotemporalise), then, perhaps John Latham's error, with half an eye turned towards eternity, was to show duration and attempt to fill it with an overarching theory that may or may not have functioned as a 'brief' to which the incidental persons were encouraged to adhere (8). When it is a matter of groups seeking common objectives and common directions for action, it is perhaps such over-arching theories, with their undertow of disciple-inducing didacticism, that have the negative effect of one group member waiting for others to get up to 'speed'. Furthermore, to what extent do such theories, in their channelling of multiform desires in the direction of the theorist as 'expert', give rise to a situation in which the "impulse to action" is fettered by considerations of 'correct' adherence. Such problems could be seen to have been operative not only with the APG but with Debord and his Situationist comrades (9).

5. (Towards Situation) This hum of contradictions is probably the fate which would befall anyone who attempted to sell a 'situation' to the government. Indeed, in terms of those situationist ideas disseminated in the early 60s by Project Sigma (10), Latham's time-based move towards what he calls 'event structure' is synchronous but fundamentally divergent from the Situationist International's notion of 'constructing situations'. However, it is just such a concept that Rolf Sachsse informs us that the APG deliberately adopted and adapted: the lack of a contract between incidental person and the host agency, the de-materialised nature of the work with social relations and the impassioning of the participants towards a "release of the impulse to act" could all combine to bring about a situation. In some ways then there is an APG alignment with one extrapolation of 'constructing situations' which Guy Debord made in 1957: "If we take for example the simple gathering of a group of individuals for a given time, it would be desirable, while taking into account the knowledge and material means we have at our disposal, to study what organisation of the place, what selection of participants and what provocation of events produce the desired ambiance" (11). However, on closer inspection, the APG's 'situation' is far more closely confined than that of Debord's open ended description, and, if we bring in Debord's later comparison of a constructed situation as a means of making our own history (12), our own times, then the APG create a situation whose ambiance is professional not least in the fact that it still orbits such terms as 'contract' and 'art-object', but that in bringing together people from various disciplines (civil servants, industrialists, architects etc) it does not actively pursue de-specialisation but brings forth the 'incidental person' as a specialist in his or her own right. For Debord the ultimate situation would be a revolution, or at least an insurrectionary event, and for such 'situations' to come about surely means that its participants must be passional enough to desire a change of social structure; a passion which becomes an "impulse to act" precisely because it is de-specialised and seeks not to be allotted a professional role but the polymath role of remaking a society. That the ultimate participants, for Debord, were a working class united by class interest is maybe to depart in a direction that deserves separate treatment, but the starting point for Debord was that participation is essentially open to the degree that it becomes creativity in the social field regardless of its being defined as an 'art' activity (13). In this way, then, the Situationist bugbear of the 'specialist' who has a psychical investment in the structures of society as they now stand, and its later development by Project Sigma as a 'metacategorical' approach, is, at best, left to the micro-event practice of the incidental persons themselves and their role in provoking others' capacities to, echoing Debord, revolutionize their own lives. What remains unrecorded is how the ramifications of this latter speed of endeavour, the releasing of desires and passions and their inevitable confrontation with authority, were overlooked or tactically omitted from the overall approach of the APG (14).

6. ('Independent Interest') On record as renouncing a "Frankfurt School orthodoxy of apartheid between artists and government"(15), John Latham's disgruntlement with what appears to be a continual criticism of the APG's tack is worthy of sympathy to the extent that 'leftist purity', in refusing the testing practice of contradiction, can often remain at a level of ineffectual idealism akin to the ghettos it lambasts. It does not always make the difference and it only very rarely seems prepared to undergo experiments in deracination. John Latham, speaking before the time-based theories took a firmer grip on him, referred to knowledge as being for experts and as that which renders thought unnecessary (16). In many ways this encapsulates the success and failure of the APG endeavour in that Latham was prepared to uproot himself, almost make himself blank, and enter a situation knowing nothing about it at all. As a blueprint for the incidental person it may not have been realistic but as a means of operating in a manner akin to Kafka's researcher in Investigations Of A Dog it was a means of charging a situation with inquisitiveness: "They certainly had no wish to listen to my questions, but it was precisely because I asked these questions that they had no wish to drive me away" (17). Everyone is interested in an objective view of their endeavours and none more so, perhaps, than the conscientious bureaucrats of a Governmental Department who could, by means of an APG placement come to gain some 'outside' knowledge about their operations and the social relations they were concerned with managing. Above all, then, it must be borne in mind that any APG placement was not one-sided and just as the danger of bringing about the release of a "latent public impulse"(18) can be steered back on course by a combination of 'specialists', a wilful ignorance can not only be welcomed with open arms as a surface to project upon but can be exploited. Such wilful ignorance, then, however commendably selfless and potentially subversive, was perhaps effective when getting to grips with theoretical physics, but when it was offered, even ex post facto, that the APG had been intending to "promote a public interest independent of the interests of the parties involved" (19) the blank space necessary for such an endeavour, a space devoid of history or memory, whilst perhaps contributing to the 'dematerialization' of the artist, makes the competing definitions of what constitutes the public interest a relatively simple problematic. So, with this promotion of an 'independent interest' the incidental person becomes, once again, the transcendental artist rising above politics in that such an assertion, in paying next to no attention to the historical make-up of the State as precisely that body which seeks to maintain sectional class interest as the public interest, is not only as idealistic as the leftist purity that recoils from the often invigorating contamination of contradiction, but when married to other ex post facto assertions such as the claim made that art should be a work "complementary to rather than as opposed to that of governing bodies... the source of a new equilibrium"(20), is tantamount to seriously underestimating the connection between capitalism and governments and making such linkage invisible. Such an operation, then, reveals that the APG was not seeking to change society but societies idea of art: "Artist placement was intended to serve art ... assuming that art does have a contribution to make to society at the centre"(21). Serving art as if to serve some article of faith and assuming, perhaps through wilful ignorance, that power lies at the 'centre' in the offices of government is to recollapse the advances made by the 'dematerialization' of the art object in the direction of a work in the social field and is to deny the power of a government's subjects to change their situation. As such it touches upon the problems of the APG approach in that the incidental person is turned back into an artist by means of their 'professionalisation'. This makes for an accord between APG and the Government Departments in that the incidental person as a 'salaried' rather than a 'waged' employee becomes identifiable as a management representative involved in the 'decision making' concerns of the government department. If this perhaps removes the contradictions of the industrial placements between 'shop floor' and 'top office' - in that outcomes emanating from the incidental person's presence are more of a policy making kind - it does not remove the sense that the APG were seeking legitimation from the authorities by ultimately proving their responsibility to the aims of that authority: "a new component necessary to parliamentary democracy" (22).

7. ('Spoof Work') Given this compatibility between the APG and the left-liberal or socialist strands of Government Departments it is perhaps telling that after endless rounds of negotiation and the legitimating assurances of the "civil service memorandum", it still took Steveni and Latham several hard working years to get the four placements up and running (23). Through this process Latham and Steveni put themselves through a practical learning curve in the machinations of a capitalist democracy intent with keeping control over cultural activities and residencies through the auspices of the Arts Council. Prepared to scarifice their own careers - in a manner few artists and writers could even partially conceive of - they put themselves through the machinations of a capitalist democracy intent on keeping control over cultural activities through the auspices of the Art Council. They were actually witness to having their projects filched and their input erased from the historical record. The overtoned echo of the APG is such that its most socially effective work seems to be either submerged from the record in the desiring-production of a placement's 'micro-events' or lies in what Sir Roy Shaw, the then General Secretary of the Arts Council, dubbed as a 'spoof work': the exposure of a state-controlled culture which has been extensively documented through correspondence by John Latham and Barbara Steveni. This 'spoof work' began in the unprecedented situation of an arts initiative, that of the APG, being brought to fruition in the governmental placements without the financial assistance or political backing of the Arts Council. By the early 80s, when the term of the governmental placements had ended, the APG doggedly persisted in seeking representations to the Arts Council and other government departments to continue their work. The Arts Council continually rebuffed their approaches, cutting not only their access to funds but cutting the APG out of the historical record (24), refuting the existence of correspondence that was in the APG's possession and becoming increasingly obstructive to the APG's appeal for funds from other bodies. This situation led Latham and Steveni to appeal and reappeal against decisions, to consult their MP and eventually to meet with the then Shadow Arts Minister. At all turns the dogged persistence, after some ministerial support, met with a brick wall. In 'Report Of A Surveyor', Latham paraphrases a letter from Sir Roy Shaw to the then shadow Arts Minister in which the APG is misrepresented and maligned to the degree that, it is inferred by John Latham's paraphrasing, the Shadow Arts Minister reconsider his supportive interest in the group. This letter, under special protection of the Art Council's Royal Charter and consequently, Latham informs us, to take effect unchallenged leads Latham, not unduly, into detecting the whiff of a conspiracy: "it may have been the assumed threat to administrator's own careers that is the chief factor, or it may be that some internal state security is believed, or imagined, to be threatened" (25). The "public interest" which the APG hoped to serve independently is, in this 'spoof work', revealed at the first turn to be the site of an always inevitable conflict that even the most informed and combative of artists could not compete with alone. Whether this unchallengeable edict from up on high was informed by a wariness as to the perceived challenge of APG placements to the APG-inspired Art Council 'residency' scheme, or whether it was a fear of the subversive potential of the incidental person strategy is not a choice to be made; it is both at the same time and maybe more, for, not only does this 'spoof work' reveal the state's interest in culture at a time before capitalism became increasingly acculturated, it, unhealthily for those who believe the state is run by the half-wits who front it, shows up, perhaps, that the threat implied by the incidental person was being taken more seriously by others than it was by the APG themselves: "If there is thought to have been a thread of intent in APG activity in any way suggesting plots to undermine the system, then may it be brought into the open" (26). Democracy did not want its new component and the APG, putting faith in the artist as professional, struggling to actually become 'incidental' and shake off not only their specialist identity but their faith in democracy as meaning democracy, seemed to have vastly overestimated the presence of similar 'free individuals' in the decision making processes and, perhaps more to the point, underestimated the extent of the bureaucratic deflection of the "impulse to act" ever upwards and the extent to which the 'public interest' was and still is being defended as a cultural status quo belying a capitalistic agenda.

8. (Official Secrets) The ramifications of this 'spoof work' may be seen to be pessimistic and to offer no further strategies of continuation for a radical 'event' based practice that seeks to release the "impulse to change" by tracking the desires in social situations. But maybe such pessimism is itself strategic. The governmental route has maybe been tried and tested and seen to be a route that is hopelessly compromised; not least by the fact that the APG through the 'spoof work' reveal, in the interstices of their practice, the presence of other 'incidental persons' who do not have the encumbrance of an artistic identity to shake-off but who, as functionaries, personifications of their job description, would presumably make sure that such a reoccurrence of the APG route would meet with short shrift. And yet, in deliberately seeking to work outside the institutions of art the APG have picked up a trail that in having started long before them and continued long after, is still distinguishable enough to indicate that it has been trodden on more recently. Their work in the social field, whilst compromised by a belief in democratic capitalism and by a proffesionalisation rather than a de-specialisation of artists, has, nonetheless continued to keep open a concern to effect social institutions other than art institutions. Their escape from the self-referentiality of art may have been successful in terms of a refutation of the art object, but it has been won at the expense of reconvening the art object as governmental reports which, in the case of Ian Breakwell's placement for the DHSS in the area of mental health, has been and perhaps still is, subject to the official secrets act. This tangible outcome of Ian Breakwell's placement as a 'textual work', in perhaps revealing the ultimate sanction that a Governmental Department could wield over a placement in order to make sure desire didn't break-out in the social field in unmanageable proportions, does not therefore undermine the slow seepage of effect that the placement had for those who participated in it and, who knows, led to a growing distrust of those institutions where social control and governance is practised like an art. Such exposure is the APG's legacy and this is where John Latham's time-based theories work their most efficaciously in that, as he says, "perhaps we have to consider that all action is potentially, if not directly linked to what happens on the subsequent enactment" (27). For subsequent enactments to keep on occurring there needs to be a variety of follow-throughs which would include the testimony of the incidental persons (28) and other APG members through to an embracing of the political potential of desire as a material force in the examination of social relations. Such a desiring-presence of people who neither identify as revolutionary initiates or artist-professionals, is crucial in widening the scope of "subsequent enactment" if that enactment is to escape from reifying its experience in predetermined categories such as 'art' or 'government' and, as a result, limiting the range even of its own ghettos. Such a 'revolutionizing' of daily life, a process much concerned with making social relations visible, needs the continuing deracination of the 'experts' rather than their continuing attempts at lead-weight coherence, a deracination that enables those who feel they have access to the means of expression to give encouragement to those who are coming-to-expression. An improvisatory element, in which all begin from 'zero', could be one ramification of a conceptual art practice as could be the lent-momentum made possible through those 'dematerialised' forms that carry along with them the "rejection of any a priori identity of the artwork" (29). With no prescriptions in place for an activity, that activity could escape the purview of any and all institutions and in immersing itself in a socio-historical continuum in which desire can come to be 'materially' visible as 'radiant energy' is perhaps where dematerialized artists meet with imaginative revolutionaries: desires outstrip their confinement within institutions and build their own. Practice becomes invisible but ever-present.

Howard Slater
Feb/March 2000


A version of this article edited by William Clarke appeared in Variant Vol 2,No.11 - Summer 2000. This version is an amalgam of the first version and the Variant version which retains William Clarke's subheading suggestions.

1. Joseph Kosuth: Introductory Note by the American Editor, Art & Language No.2 in Lucy Lippard: Six Years - The Dematerialization of the Art Object, Studio Vista, 1973, p148.
2. Jeremy Blank: Unpublished Interview With John Latham, London, 17/12/91 (courtesy of Matt Hale).This turn of phrase, however loose and conversational in import, smacks of an alienation in which the artist almost adopts the guise of another 'being', is, both interesting in terms of the "new ground premises" Latham is interested in, but is also indicative of a persisting artistic insularity whereby artists succumb to the ideology of art as a separable sphere, an 'art world'.
3. John Latham: Report Of A Surveyor, Tate Gallery, 1986, p59. Art & Language in responding to Lucy Lippard's 'dematerialization' term had the following to say: "Matter is a specialised form of energy; radiant energy is the only form in which energy can exist in the absence of matter... de-materialisation...conversion of a state of matter into that of radiant energy" (See Lippard, ibid, p43). This is closely related to Asger Jorn's notion of an art-work liberating "a force which exists within the person who perceives" (See Transgressions No.4,1998). Radiant energy/ desire/libido is a largely unexplored area of conceptual art but is one which has been tentatively engaged in by such artists as Mary Kelly, Jo Spence, Susan Hiller and Adrian Piper.
4. Barbara Steveni: Will Art Influence History?, 'And' Journal of Art No.9, 1986, p18.
5. ibid, p19.
6. ibid.
7. One time APG member Rolf Sachsse offers that this turn from the industrial placements was informed by irresolvable discrepancies over the lack of an 'art object' resulting from such a placement. This is interesting in terms of the notion of an art-product eliding with the commodity-form and in terms of a potential materialisation of the social relations within a factory. See 'From 0-1 to 0+1' in Art After Physics, p47, Museum of Modern Art Oxford, 1992. However, John Latham ambiguously offers that the turn away from industrial placements and the move towards government departments was sought as it would be a "more public and beneficial field". See John Latham, Report Of A Surveyor, ibid, p40.
8. Rolf Sachsse reports that a great deal of dissension arose within APG members over the issue of adherence to these time-based theories which have been further developed by Latham and Steveni in the late 80s and coincide with the APG's being renamed O+I. See Sachsse, ibid, p49.
9. Guy Debord, author of Society Of The Spectacle, was left alone as the Last Situationist. John Cage, on the otherhand may have escaped such a fate through apolitical Buddhist 'ego suspension' techniques but at least one group whom he inspired, the Spanish Zaj group, speak of "Cage's cage". John Latham, to his credit, was very aware of the "assumed authority of the writer's medium" as demonstrated in his (mis)use of books and in his dubbing the factory of academia the "Mental Furniture Industry". See Latham, ibid, p18.
10. In may ways Project Sigma was a far more utopian project than the APG which, never quite getting off the ground has left it resonating without the contradictions of its practice attached. One such proposed area of Sigma activity was to be'cultural engineering' - a pooling of creative people offering "technical assistance, making available 'pool cosmonaut' to company 'n', and oiling connexions between 'n' and the vast groundplan in the process of articulating itself as project sigma evolves". John Latham was present at the 'inaugural' meting of Project Sigma held at Braziers Park, Oxfordshire in June 1964. See Jeff Nuttall's Bomb Culture. For Project Sigma and its dynamo, the 'novelist' Alexander Trocchi, see Andrew Murray Scott (ed), Invisible Insurrection, Polygon, 1992 or the reprints in Break/Flow No.1, 1996.
11. Guy Debord: Report On The Construction Of Situations in Situationist Anthology, p25, Bureau Of Public Secrets, 1981.
12. Guy Debord: Critique Of Separation, ibid, p35.
13. Guy Debord, in intending to develop surrealism's 'theory of passionate moments', saw the construction of situations as a form of desiring-production wherein desires themselves, their conscious recognition, are seen as a creative endeavour regardless of the'art forms' they take: "The really experimental direction of situationist activity consists in setting up, on the basis of more or less clearly recognised desires, a temporary field of activity favourable to those desires" See Debord: Preliminary Problems In Constructing A Situation, ibid, p43.
14. There is always the sneaking suspicion that the APG could not of got where it wanted to go if it were to have worn a more 'disruptive' intent on its sleeve. Such a kudos may have won it radical allies, but then the lines of its practice wouldn't have been explored and left for others like myself to assess later from the more comfortable vantage point of an incomplete hindsight. This is one of the contradictions, as an organisation, that it wilfully played with in order to place the incidental persons.
15. John Latham, ibid, p49.
16. John Latham in Terry Measham: John Latham, p14, Tate Gallery, 1976.
17. Franz Kafka: The Great Wall Of China And Other Short Works, p152, Penguin 1991.
18. John Latham: Report Of A Surveyor, ibid, p59.
19. John Latham, ibid, p40.
20. John Latham, ibid, p35.
21. Barbara Steveni, ibid, p18. See also, in this connection, Rolf Sachsse: "the result of a placement was assessed at the time but it had also to be judged later as to whether the process initiated could be correlated with an artistic oeuvre", ibid.
22. John Latham, ibid, cover text. In a not disconnected way the 'time-based' theories of John Latham, being worked upon in conjunction with Oxbridge academics, could also be seen to serve as another factor of legitimation, their intellectual weightiness perhaps being as seductive as their capacity to be transcendental.
23. The four Government Department placements taking place between 1975 and 1979 were those of Roger Coward at the Department of the Environment, Hugh Davies and Ian Breakwell at the Department of Health, John Latham at the Scottish Office and Stuart Brisley at Peterlee Development Corporation. Other APG members listed by Barbara Steveni in her article for And Journal Of Art (see note 5) were: Paul Burwell, Peter Byrom, Andrew Dipper, Rose Finn-Kelcey, Roberta Kravitz, Ian Munro, Helen Panhuysen, Paul Panhuysen, Carlyle Reedy, Rolfe Sachsse, Ros Schadt, Jeffrey Shaw, Nicholas Tresilian, Kate Walker.
24. Kristine Stiles, researching 60s art movements in the mid 80s complained to Barbara Steveni that she could find "absolutely no trace or records whatsoever, of any work from this period from official sources [i.e. Arts Council]...". See Steveni, ibid, p16.
25. John Latham, ibid, p60.
26. John Latham, ibid, p52.
27. John Latham quoted by Ina Conzen-Meairs: Art After Physics, ibid, p29.
28. Ian Breakwell wrote a 'personal history' of his APG Placement that discusses the follow-throughs he embarked upon. These include his Continuous Diaries, input into the Yorkshire TV documentary, 'The Secret Hospital' (1979), that exposed conditions inside Rampton and a film made in collaboration with Kevin Coyne, 'The Institution' (1978). See Art Monthly No.40, 1980.
29. John Roberts: The Impossible Document, p12, Camerawords, 1997.